“YOU NEVER FORGET THE PEOPLE WHO HELPED YOU”
ALISA SOKOLOFF ’01, M.D.
As a young girl growing up in her native Russia, Alisa Sokoloff knew she wanted the kind of opportunity and freedom to pursue her dreams she could find only in the United States. She jumped at the chance to attend high school as an exchange student and experienced American life in California, where she lived with a host family. After graduating, she returned to Russia but was resolute about returning to the United States.
“I started looking [at colleges] on the East Coast,” she says, and connected over email with a Caldwell faculty member who focused on recruiting international students. Sokoloff applied for admission and was thrilled to be awarded a full scholarship.
“You never forget the people who helped you,” says Sokoloff, citing her Caldwell mentors, chemistry professor Dr. Jean Armstrong and biology professors Dr. Catherine Koo and Dr. Sook Choi. These faculty members, recognizing Sokoloff’s formidable drive and intellect, encouraged her to consider a career in medicine. While at Caldwell, in recognition of her exceptional record of achievement, Sokoloff was awarded a Fulbright scholarship.
Then, when she was 21, grim news arrived: Her father in Russia received a diagnosis of lymphoma; he passed away just weeks later at the age of 47. This life-altering event became the impetus for Sokoloff’s future in medicine: She turned her grief into action, committing to a career in hematology-oncology.
Sokoloff graduated from Caldwell with a degree in biology, but plans for medical school became imperiled when her application met with a visa-related issue. However, she remained undeterred, working as a medical technician for several years until government officials reestablished the viability of her visa. She applied and was accepted to the medical school at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After graduating, she completed her internal medicine internship and residency at Lenox Hill Hospital and a hematology-oncology fellowship at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Today Sokoloff is an assistant professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, the graduate medical school of Hofstra University. She is a board-certified hematologist-oncologist in internal medicine, hematology and medical oncology.
She says that helping patients and families navigate the vagaries of treatment and providing them with reassurance and support takes “stamina.” But despite the challenges inherent in caring for cancer patients, Sokoloff says she finds inspiration in the “good outcomes” she regularly sees, adding that the gratitude of her patients and their families is what makes her profession “great.” This year she joined the staff of the New York Cancer & Blood Specialists (NYCBS), one of the country’s leading oncology practices. Dr. Jeffrey Vacirca, CEO of NYCBS, welcomed her, saying, “Dr. Sokoloff is a brilliant, caring physician. She will provide excellent care to our patients in the community.”
Sokoloff’s courageous and solitary journey to a new and unfamiliar land led her to Caldwell, which she says is “The first place that gave me a chance, and I’ll always be grateful.”